I ❤ APIs Europe 2016 roundup

by Dan Cutting

I attended the I ❤ APIs Europe 2016 conference yesterday at Tobacco Dock in London.

It’s a beautiful venue. Originally a 19th century warehouse, this converted space has many conference rooms and lots of exposed brick, wooden beams and vaulted ceilings. It was cold though!

There were three tracks running in parallel: Strategy; Technology; and Development. I picked and chose depending on what specific talks looked interesting.

The conference was put on by Apigee, so I expected some pitches. Many of the talks were fairly uninspiring, with too much emphasis on specific products, although there were several bright spots.


The opening keynotes focussed on disruption. Chet Kapoor outlined the four industrial revolutions (Steam, Electricity, I.T., and “Digital”). Security was held up as a particular challenge in an API-driven world, pointing to the recent Nissan Leaf security revelation.

John Rethans followed up with an amusing hand-holding exercise (tongue-in-cheek?) aiming to show how simple it should be to pick up and let go of APIs. A few of his other points also resonated: “build it and they will come” is backwards when it comes to APIs; and “your customers are your best product managers”.

Jack Ramsey gave a cautionary, funny—and decidedly Scottish—keynote., warning everybody in the room to be the disruptor or die.

He also gave a nice example of Industry 4.0: self-driving cars (or autos). When cars can show up when you need them, and find their own parking spots when you don’t, people will rent them ad hoc instead of owning them, decimating the automative industry in the process.

By this point we were already half an hour behind schedule!

Developer-centric talks

Matthew McClean gave an overview of AWS Lambda which is a platform for running stateless functions without the need for servers. Examples of use included transcoding videos and indexing objects added to S3 for search.

Stuart Leeks gave a similar talk from the Azure point of view, covering Logic Apps which seem like a combination of IFTTT and Lambda. One interesting feature is the ability for workflows to pause during execution for a day or so; sending followup emails to customers was the exemplary use case.

Tom Christie presented his work on Core API, a document-centric abstraction that aims to sit above the myriad existing ways to describe APIs. Transport layers are decoupled from this model, so they could be HTTP or “real-time” web sockets with diffs and patches. Seems like an interesting idea which I’ll be checking out; ain’t nothing can’t be solved with another level of indirection.

Lunch was a choice between Mac’n’cheese (tasty but parsimonious), or salad (voluminous but… salad).

Teams and technologies

Oliver Ogg from Marks & Spencer gave a thoughtful talk about how they are making the switch from a typical retail mindset to “digital”, and building their own APIs. These are not just APIs, these are M&S APIs.

Just some of the useful nuggets from this talk:

  • They have a separate API team:
    • Because it was hard to get API work onto the backlogs for other teams
    • To ensure best practices from the outset
    • 8 people in team; members rotate every few months
    • Responsible for “core” APIs
    • Works directly with other teams to spread the word and build team-specific APIs
    • One downside is they are not necessarily experts in the API domains
  • Some of their practices:
    • Swagger first
    • No code generation
    • Add information in custom headers to track latency when composing APIs
    • Hackathons
    • They wish they’d written guidelines for API best practices before spreading a wider net

Andrew Braithwaite from LateRooms started with a big ball of pain(t) as a metaphor for how most systems evolve and are difficult to change. In contrast to the M&S approach, they have no API team; instead each team (roughly 5 people) owns vertical slices that go from the UX through their own APIs down to databases. Up to 20 releases per day is not unheard of.

Jonathan Bennett from Zooz and Greg Brail from Apigee talked about using containers (such as Docker) to simplify and speed up the deployment of microservices. They noted that containers are much less resource-intensive than VMs since they share the kernel and device drivers while separating file systems and memory. They consider Docker Hub crucial to the astonishing success of Docker, by enabling a vibrant community to exist around this technology.


All in all, it was worth attending yesterday. Thanks to Apigee for organising the conference, and to all the speakers for some fun and informative talks!

Comments? @dcutting #iloveapis

Hi, I'm Dan Cutting. I mainly write Swift for iOS but love working on Mac apps, web APIs, and programming languages too.

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